Because it’s packed with digital models rather than analog circuits, Roland’s AIRA TR-8 can be more than just a drum machine. It’s a platform for expansion.

And today, as expected, Roland has gone further into their back catalog of genre-shaping drum sounds to expand on its hit TR-8. The 7X7-TR8 Drum Machine Expansion brings TR-707 and TR-727 sounds to the AIRA box and even builds on the 808 and 909 models included so far. The only bad news here is that it’s a paid update.

What’s new:

  • 30 original sounds from the TR-707 and TR-727 (by original, that means the sounds themselves are identical – these were digital waveforms on the 707 and 727, so they’re included verbatim)
  • Tune and Decay controls for all the new 707, 727 sounds
  • New TR-808 “noise” sounds, finger snaps
  • Modified TR-909 kick and snare with “enhanced attack characteristics

At top, you can listen in on the new sounds. The TR-727 are, of course, a bit more varied, adding some Latin spice. It makes for more fun, no question. If you want a value-priced drum machine, if you want to buy someone a drum machine for Christmas, the TR-8 is the obvious top choice. Continue reading »

Getting “open” still scares many music manufacturers. Maybe they should double-check those fears.

See, if you add simple jacks (MIDI, audio), if you add driver-less operation (via USB and the like), let alone if you design simple APIs or create open source interfaces, you open the door to people making things that work with your creation, for free. They have to want to be there – but we make music. We love music gadgets. If your gadget is worth using in the first place, it’s worth opening up to other things.

You know. “If you build it … people will come.” The one constant is baseb– um, music, sorry.

At least, the magic is working for KORG. Just days – seriously, days – after getting hold of an open API for the KORG volca sample, there’s a cross-platform sample loading tool for this inexpensive sound gizmo. The volca sample is barely even shipping yet, and someone has created a free utility that works with it for free.

That’s no minor development, either, because one thing that has held at least some readers back from buying a volca sample is that it requires a KORG iPhone/iPod touch utility for loading samples. KORG’s app is cute and clever, but maybe you don’t have an iPhone – or don’t want to be dependent on one.

The Caustic Editor runs on Android. It runs on Mac OS X. It runs on Linux and Windows.

On iOS, it performs tricks even the stock KORG app can’t – like functionality with Audiobus, meaning you can open up sound design possibilities with other iOS apps.

Otherwise, it’s able to do everything you would need to do with samples on the volca sample because KORG wrote a simple SDK that makes it so. (And, honestly, KORG didn’t do that much – they released a simple library for handling samples covering just the basics.)

WAV Continue reading »

“But I don’t have enough time.”

So, get a camera crew from FACT to loom behind you and watch while you produce, all with a clever ten-minute clock ticking away for their series Against The Clock.

Actually, no. Two problems. One, the pressure might make you completely freeze up. Two, yes, you might not have FACT around.

But you could imagine a timer. Deft, the aptly-named Croydon, UK artist whose work ranges from cinematic and ambient straight through to footwork, here goes a bit modern drum and bass in a perfectly passable track that he assembles under the clock. Got to hand it to him for that.

And his tool of choice is one that gets far too little attention around these parts: ancient-in-computer-years Windows stalwart FL Studio aka “Fruity Loops.” FL gets extra points here for putting useful samplers and other instruments right front and center, building in a step sequencer, and generally getting you making music right away. Even doing it all with a mouse doesn’t look so awkward. FL users, maybe you can spot something clever in here, but mostly I think it’ll warm your hearts. Continue reading »

Now, your iPad can go from sweet-sounding pads to hordes of angry bees and back again, all by modeling physical behaviors of flocking. It’s called the Photophore, and it’s a “flock synthesis” instrument.

You may have seen synths that produce lush sounds by combining oscillators – the eight-oscillator Swarmatron springs to mind. Well, this synth puts the “swarm” in “Swarmatron.” With up to one hundred oscillators per patch, it uses physical modeling to transform sound by simulating flocking behaviors.


I’ve seen experiments that have done things like this with flocking algorithms and particle systems, but this must be the first serious attempt I’ve seen to make a dedicated iOS instrument. For a previous incarnation of the concept on desktop, check out AnarchySoundSoftware’s SwarmSynth – which is still available as a free Windows VST. (Just enter a serial. That app has particles flocking through an “envelope-constrained 5 dimensional parametric hyperspace.”)

And it’s not just a toy – inter-app audio and full MIDI support are built in, so this can fit nicely into your production workflow. (And, oh yeah, I’m keen to combine these sounds with our WretchUp app, which now boasts expanded Audiobus support.)

Full feature list: Continue reading »

This Novation hardware just got a lot more powerful and usable.

This Novation hardware just got a lot more powerful and usable.

You want to improvise with Ableton Live. You want to reach out and turn a knob, and know what it’ll do. You want to be able to grab controls that have something to do with clips that are playing.

Yeah, so Merry Christmas to us. Permit me being a little excited, as I am immensely grateful to the developers. It’s a rare case where you say “wow, I wish that this –” and then suddenly get what you asked for nearly before finishing the sentence.

Just last month, we saw a way to get grids in order using LaunchSync, a tool designed to make it easier to synchronize multiple controllers. Combine them for more control; synchronize them so that, for instance, the faders on a Novation LaunchControl XL can correspond to the clips on Ableton Push.

But we asked for more.

We asked for more hardware compatibility. Well, the creators gave it to us – for free.

We asked for more controllers. That’s available in LaunchSync PRO, which adds four pages of controls that follow the “Red Box” so you have more hands-on parameters with whatever you’re playing.

But, wait, wouldn’t it be great if your iPad could also sync up with your hardware. So, for instance, you look at touchAble, the most extensive iPad app for controlling Ableton Live, and have it stay in sync with whatever your hardware was doing. (That’s doubly useful, because the iPad can easily show more parameters and reveal clip names all at once.)

This iPad app (touchAble 3) just got a lot more powerful and usable, too. It now follows whatever you're doing with your hardware. So you can actually play, rather than squint at your gear and get confused.

This iPad app (touchAble 3) just got a lot more powerful and usable, too. It now follows whatever you’re doing with your hardware. So you can actually play, rather than squint at your gear and get confused.

I asked the developers at Isotonik and the one developer of touchAble to make it so, and… well, they did. It’s amazing. They did this in their free time, as independent developers, on their own. (I actually stuck them on a shared Facebook chat and watched as they buzzed back and forth.) So, please, go buy stuff from them, so they do this more often. (That script is only 5 pounds; touchAble is easily worth the App Store cash.) Here’s how it all works: Continue reading »


There’s a Japanese Taishogoto and vintage Lexicon PCM reverb and loads of computer production. But even for us souls tempted by gear lust, it’s the soul of process that has us talking, and talking, and talking – and listening, on repeat – with Stewart Walker. Native Instruments employee by day, prolific producer by night, he was kind enough to give us an extensive window into his world for CDM.

In the dizzying flurry of music racing past, Stewart Walker’s “Ivory Tower Broadcast” is one I keep coming back to me. It’s one that somehow I’ve gotten closer to on repeated listening.

Without losing any of its forward momentum, this is a record with a permeating sense of laid-back calm, of ease with itself. The opening “Desolation Peak,” for instance, ticks along at an amiable shuffle, all while buzzing with nervous electrical energy tearing along the fringe. “Gone at First Light” slips into the shadows, but it’s inviting, not overly gothic. Delicate and intimate percussion and strums above big synth drones and pads. Throughout, Stewart’s gentle and casual personality shine amidst thick, dark sounds. This is a friendly tap dance at the edge of an abyss.

“Candycoated” is dense and dreamy, in hypnotic motion, a real standout. “Rose Machine” drifts into a shoegaze cloudy sky, but even there, the mix keeps each element clear and distinct, with inventive textures woven into the haze. There are moments where guitar is front-and-center – “Caught in the Switches” – almost echoes Robert Fripp with ambient guitar licks. But the darker moments are never humorless or drab; “Exits Have Been Chained (For Security)” is packed with detail and groovy, ominous with an upturned smile.

So, let’s talk about how he arrived at the record, and how he finds his technical process and voice. Continue reading »


From the dawn of civilization, musicians could always be counted on as the ones inventing the truly weird technologies to make noise. Here – bang on this. Blow into this. It’ll make some sound; it’ll be noisy; it’ll get everyone’s attention. And so, the art of such designs continues.

New instrument design explorations have gone hand in hand with electronic music research from the moment electronics (and, eventually, digital technology) were capable of real-time performance. But if 3DMIN follows in the footsteps of those programs, it also seeks to intertwine questions about other fields and disciplines. And tonight in Berlin, it continues a series of performance showcases with the LEAP performance space, with artists spanning Europe and America.

3DMIN stands for “Design, Development and Dissemination of New Musical Instruments.” At first blush, it looks like more of the odd new sound interface experiments to which we’re already accustomed. But its scope and reach are broader. Researchers pulled from across disciplines look beyond just the musical object to every aspect around it (two Berlin academies, TU and UdK, are included). They look into history (hello, Teleharmonium), filing instruments by evolutionary adaptation as if collecting prehistoric oceanic fossils. There’s a sort of squeezebox of the future (see below), as part of investigations in design. They’re working with modern choreography (with a wooden apparatus used by dancers). There’s work on spatial sound, and controlled laboratory investigations of embodiment.

Squeezebox - from the future! PushPull.

Squeezebox – from the future! PushPull.

Continue reading »